Nov 21, 2012

Is the media comfortable with foreigners?

It’s a multi-cultural city, but Melbourne’s media still doesn’t seem completely at home with the idea of foreigners, especially Asian ones

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

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The Age ran a story on Monday expressing concern that the proposed redevelopment of Fishermans Bend looks like it might turn out to be as bad as soulless Docklands.

The nub of the story is the Government is out chasing down potential investors ahead of having prepared its master plan for Fishermans Bend.

Whether that’s a fair point or a beat-up is an interesting question, but what struck me about the story is these aren’t ordinary investors. These are “Asian investors”, from places like “Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Bahrain”.

Moreover, we’re warned that “the type of Malaysian investors you’ll get will want high rise and the bigger the better.” I count more than ten foreign-related references in the article.

The role of investors and their attitude towards developments is relevant, but the relevance of where they come from, although emphasised by The Age, is much less clear.

Later that morning, the host of the Morning program on ABC 774, John Faine, sought comments from experts and listeners on the developer “feeding frenzy” in Melbourne’s city centre.

The discussion focussed on the market for new apartment towers and the demand from foreign students. Mr Faine pursued the issue of foreign students seeking to enrol in universities for the primary purpose of gaining permanent residence in Australia.

During an interview with one of his expert guests, Greville Pabst from WBE Property Group, Mr Faine concluded that “we haven’t got a developer frenzy at all, we’ve got an immigration scam dressed up as development.”

Then Mr Faine made this remarkable point in relation to new buildings:

If I was buying into one of these and I’m thinking aloud here, I’m not in the slightest bit interested but if I was, I’d want to know who my neighbours were going to be……..and if I’m going to end up with a whole lot of students who’ve come to Australia from overseas, you know the children of well-to-do Chinese, Singaporean, Indian or wherever else ……..cashed-up middle class students who’re coming over here to enrol in subjects at universities and then apply for permanent residence to stay, I’d want to know if that’s the nature and character of my neighbourhood or not.

You can listen to the recording here (best to download the audio for 19 November – the segment starts at the 10 minute mark and the quote above is at 21minutes).

I can appreciate if someone were contemplating buying into an apartment tower they’d want to understand the likely demographics of their neighbours.

For example, older folk might want to avoid young singles who they’d expect would make noise. In turn, millennials might prefer the company of their peers and might want to minimise contact with potentially curmudgeonly baby-boomers.

It’s not clear to me though why the nationality or country of origin of one’s neighbours would matter. Or why the socioeconomic status of their parents, or their motivation for living in Australia, would be of any concern when it comes to choosing where to live.

Mr Faine says these are matters that he’d want to know about beforehand if he were buying into a building and he’s entitled to his personal view. But in this instance he wasn’t talking in private but to an audience of hundreds of thousands of listeners.

Anyone who writes a lot of words in a hurry knows how easy it is to slip-up inadvertantly on a fact or the way something’s expressed. It must be an order of magnitude harder for radio hosts who’re talking in real time.

Given his public record, I don’t believe Mr Faine intended to be discriminatory, but I think his comments are open to that interpretation. I also think there’s the possibility they might reinforce the prejudices of some listeners.


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7 thoughts on “Is the media comfortable with foreigners?

  1. Dudley Horscroft

    I don’t know Mr Faine so cannot answer for him, but he could be allergic to the smell of heated mustard oil, used, I believe, in much Indian cookery. That apart, what else can you expect from the Spencer Street Soviet?

  2. Black Spot

    This article is ves ted in terest dri vel. Since when is it a crime to want to know who you’ll be living next door to?…and you brand him a ra-ist? As soon as the author played the ra-ist card he became very trans parent to his vested interest as an urban plann er. No influx of immi grants equals no planning which equals no mo ney for the con sultants.

    Real ity check? The FIRB has not been keeping records so pretent ious poo nces like you can make a living.

  3. IkaInk

    Irrelevant to the article, but the link you’ve provided to the Fin Review website will lead most people to a paywall. Here’s an article with the same title, funnily enough and proving the point in itself, from Toronto.


    Thanks, have changed to your URL. I don’t have a sub to the Fin Review so don’t know why it came up with a paywall for others. AD

  4. suburbanite

    What annoys me is the arrogance of people like Faine who I suspect aren’t really just concerned about who lives next door to them but that “other” people might not opt for the stifling conformity of the white-bread suburbs. How dare they want to live in “Hong Kong” style towers and enjoy the convenience of an urban lifestyle.

  5. Alan Davies

    hk #2:

    Yes, but I’m talking about the socioeconomic status of the neighbour’s parents, who in this case live overseas!

  6. hk

    “It’s not clear to me …why the socioeconomic status of their parents, or their motivation for living in Australia, would be of any concern when it comes to choosing where to live.”…Really Alan?
    People investing in property when choosing where to live in the longer term, say twenty years or so, are very influenced by the socio-demographics of their neighbours. A big issue is whether neighbours are only transient and the amount of care the absentee landlords put into the properties. I doubt whether cultural factors such as language and religion of neighbours strongly influence choice. But long term residencies, income and education factors do influence the development of sustainable, healthy and well integrated communities based on local schools, sports and similar community activities.
    There seems to be quite some spirited discussion around Docklands where long term residents see their world and values compromised by some very short term neighbours.

  7. Dylan Nicholson

    I think it’s defensible to want to know if there will be demographic with a predominant cultural background somewhat different from your own. I would like to know Mr Faine’s exact reasoning for feeling uncomfortable about being surrounded by “rich-kid Asian students” – sounds like a pretty good choice of neighbours to me if you’re concerned about safety, neighborhood upkeep, and generally restrained behaviour (I live surrounded by students, and it’s never the Asian ones, of which there are many, that cause any issue – actually to be honest none of them ever really do, but the noisy ones, or the ones that let their gardens get overgrown etc. seem to be invariably white).
    But I certainly agree the country of origin should be completely irrelevant as far as whether we should look for developers for this sort of thing – bad and good ideas can come from anywhere. Though I’d seriously worry if they were thinking of bringing in anyone from most parts of the U.S. 😛

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